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Parenting with a PurposeInspiring, Positive Alternatives to Reach and Teach Your Child How to Behave
By Diana R. Boggia
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Diana R. Boggia, MEd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParenting Styles and Strategies
Introduction to Parenting: What's Your Style?
Parenting styles vary from family to family and parent to parent. Some parenting styles are cultural. Many of us parent as our parents did, while others vow to never parent as their parents did. How we were parented taught us how to respond, how to behave, and what was expected of us. We carry those experiences with us, which is important to remember as you now parent your own young child.
Some parents laugh from embarrassment when their child misbehaves. Some parents ignore misbehaviors, perhaps because they don't want to escalate the situation or don't know how to address the situation properly. Some parents react to misbehaviors by yelling or spanking, only to later regret their actions and apologize. Some rule with an iron fist, while others don't provide rules at all. Specific components to successful parenting provide the scaffolding for the development of a successful child.
Parents who seek exposure to continuous teaching opportunities are successful in providing the experiences that help build positive self-esteem, effective communication, acceptable social skills, and successful independence. Parents who recognize a temper tantrum as an opportunity to teach appropriate behaviors are more successful in minimizing tantrums overall and will experience fewer public displays. Those parents who set their children up for success by communicating their expectations, rather than simply expecting their children to behave, will get better results. So many methods can improve a child's behavior, but simply expecting him to behave won't produce the behavior you desire. Children need to be taught repeatedly, by example, with multisensory communication, consistency, and love. I have provided positive strategies throughout this chapter to help you set your child up for success by nurturing desired behaviors and reinforcing them with your focused attention.
Most children learn what they live. They watch everything we do and listen closely to all we say. Be aware of what you expose your child to. Once he has seen or heard it, it will be part of his life experience. Protect your child, and teach with love, not impulsive reactions. Teach with consistency, providing the same answer, so your child can learn what to expect from you and understand what is expected of him. Teach outside the event, after you have had an opportunity to think carefully about the best way to help your child learn.
This chapter provides information, along with interventions with a positive approach, in response to specific questions or situations brought up by parents looking for alternatives to redirect, reframe, or remediate their child's behavior. You can teach or retrain your child by providing the information in a variety of ways, including direct communication and modeling. Raising a child requires unconditional love, consistency, a watchful eye, thoughtful teaching, a listening ear, and an open heart. Any behavior can be changed, just as any child can be taught the skills you want him to have. The determining factor is how you teach them. You are your child's teacher of life for the rest of his life.
Parent with a purpose, providing your child with everything he needs, because it is just not quite good enough to parent with love alone.
Children Learn What They Live
It is not easy to be a parent. Children test limits throughout the day, every day, because that is how they learn. Parents set boundaries. They push the limit. Then parents set boundaries again. Those with more than one child know the frustration and chaos that can occur when trying to correct or redirect one child, only to have a sibling come around to stir the pot, tease, or deliberately attempt to escalate the situation. They yell, and parents yell at them to be quiet. They hit a sibling, and parents spank or slap their wrist while screaming, "Don't hit!" Children can be embarrassingly loud at home, throughout the neighborhood, and in public, totally unaware that they are affecting everyone around them. They learn by what is modeled for them, so be mindful of what you are teaching your observant learner.
Years ago, I was given a refrigerator magnet that says, "Parenting is the toughest job you'll ever love." I found that to be so true. I loved raising my children, and I love being a mom. I gave it my all. My three children lived through my parenting mistakes and learned much as they were growing up. There was a long, difficult divorce, and too often they were caught in the middle. We faced unbelievable challenges, and on some days it was difficult to get up in the morning to begin another day. There were tears, but there was always laughter. There were arguments, but there were always hugs. There was hurt, but there was always an abundance of love.
I often speak with parents who ask, "Why does my child act the way he does?"
I respectfully answer, "You are his role model, and he is learning you." When a parent stands in disbelief, I rephrase and say, "If not here and from you, then where?"
I love the phrase "more is caught than taught," meaning that children carefully watch everything we do and learn directly from our example. Of course, many influential people are in a child's life—friends, teachers, and family—who directly impact your child as he learns by watching and listening. However, the foundation of who they truly are and how they navigate through life comes from how they live from the boundaries you provide and the unconditional love you show consistently every day. I'm sure you will recognize the familiar verse below, but take a minute to read Dorothy Law Nolte's words:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself. If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is. If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty. If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident. If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate. If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love. If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself. If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing, he learns about generosity. If a child lives with honesty and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him. If a child lives with security, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live. If you live with serenity, your child will have peace of mind. With what is your child living?
When your child is respectful, honest, confident, perseverant, hardworking, generous, kind, tender, empathetic, thoughtful, loving, and patient, take a minute to think about how he developed those wonderful attributes and who taught him. Then say to yourself, "He must have been watching."
Seven Steps to Effective Parenting
The way in which you communicate to your child will determine how clearly your message will be received. The consistency with which you teach will determine how well your child will learn. Providing rules and guidelines, with incentives and consequences, will teach your child what to expect and what is expected of him. Johanna Miller, psychological assessor at Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health in Canton, Ohio, provided some of the following information to improve behaviors:
1. Provide simple, clear instructions. Many parents talk too much. The more they talk, the less children hear. Give clear, simple instructions and explanations for tasks throughout the day. If a task is complex or lengthy, break it down into more manageable steps.
2. Determine family rules. Create a list of family rules and expectations for behavior, and post them in a prominent location. Involving your child in the process will encourage him to take more responsibility for his choices and behaviors.
3. Increase compliance by increasing positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. Catch your child being good. Whenever your child follows a direction or command, no matter how small, praise or recognize that behavior. For example, you could say, "I see you made your bed this morning," or "I noticed you hung up your jacket by the door." Practice compliance by giving your child several simple "when and then" commands within a short period of time, such as, "When your show is over, then it's time to turn off the TV." Provide recognition when the command is followed.
4. Pay attention to how you give commands. Make sure you really mean it. It sounds obvious, but many frustrated parents give command after command, hoping a child will follow one of them. Never ask a child to do something. Tell him to do it. Don't say, "Try to be home on time." Instead, say, "Be home by five." Keep commands simple. The more words a parent uses, the less a child will hear. Break complex tasks into several steps, and praise your child after he completes each step before providing the next. Finally, make sure you have your child's attention. Stand in front of him, touch him gently, get down to his level, provide the directive, and then have him retell you what he is to do. This is called "reflective listening."
5. Create positive rewards. Work with your child to set up a reward system for expected everyday tasks, including completing homework without complaints or getting ready for bed without grumbling. Chores, such as cleaning the bathroom or helping around the house, need to be assigned, reinforced, and rewarded upon completion. Behavior goals, such as listening the first time, sharing, speaking rather than screaming, and so forth, can change how your child functions when you have a specific idea of the behavior you want. Use tokens, stickers, or points to help your child visually track what he has earned. These can be displayed on a chart with stickers, kept in a clear jar using tokens, or listed in a "bank book" with points. Create a list of rewards with your child to work toward, for example, five tokens equals one hour of extra TV, two stickers equals one half hour of a video game, fifteen points equals a movie rental, and so forth. The rewards should be given in addition to ongoing parental praise, and of course, hugs are always free. Adolescents may act as if a hug is the last thing they desire, but everyone actually loves a hug. Children often tire quickly of rewards, so be sure to frequently change the type of reward your child can earn.
6. Choose appropriate, natural consequences for poor behavior. When your child is misbehaving, make every effort to maintain a calm, controlled demeanor. Keep your voice level and firm. Do not scream, threaten, or spank. Restate your expectation. If, after trying to understand why your child has misbehaved, you determine that the offense needs a consequence, make it a natural one. "Since you refused to turn off the TV when I told you to, you have lost the privilege of watching any more TV for the rest of the day."
7. Always set a good example for your child. Children need role models to learn appropriate behavior, and the adults in their lives are critically important. Give yourself a break if you realize that, due to your anger or frustration, you are making a conflict worse, not better. Say, "I'm very angry right now. Go to your room. I will speak with you about this in ten minutes." This is a great way to model for your child how to take time out to regain self-control. Children learn what they live. As a parent, you can show, do, and say what you want your child to know and to grow to be.
Teach Rather Than Negotiate
Do you repeat yourself or feel frustrated or worn out trying to get your child to listen the first time? Does your child ignore what you say or incessantly negotiate until you give in? Some parents are accepting of those negotiations and label their child as "strong-willed." I have heard parents speak right in front of their child, saying, "He's just so strong-willed that I don't know what to do!" Unfortunately, with that one statement, they have just empowered their child.
Providing clear directives and following through with consistency can be two of the most difficult actions a parent must take. Following through with consistency is also one of the most wonderful gifts a parent can give to a child. Children raised with structure, boundaries, consistency, fairness, and unconditional love will grow up to be successful within the guidelines of life. It is often exhausting to stay the course, not being swayed by begging, pleas, argument, negotiation, objections, and challenges. Parents need to be reminded not to take it personally when they hear, "You are the meanest mom ever!" or "I wish I had a different mother." Succumbing to parental uncertainty in decision making sends a direct message to a child that he can push and pressure until his parent changes his mind. Parental indecision actually teaches a child how to manipulate, misbehave, and negotiate, even at a young age. A common example is when a child asks for candy at the checkout, and his parents say, "No, not today." Typically, that child will whine, and his parent will say, "No, don't ask me again." Next, the child will cry, and the parent will say, "I'm getting angry. I said no. Stop crying." When that child has escalated to a full-blown temper tantrum, the parent tosses the candy to the child out of anger and defeat to minimize embarrassment and to stop the screaming. Unfortunately, at that moment, that parent has just trained his child to yell louder and longer each time because he has learned that his parent will eventually give in. A child will gradually become empowered each time his parent gives in. Children learn by testing limits. Think of it as their job to continually push and to test to see if the rules have changed. They learn social and interpersonal skills as well as cause and effect as they navigate through each day. How we respond to them will determine how they respond to us and others throughout their lives. The next time you are in the candy aisle and your answer is no, stay strong, and do not change your mind under pressure.
Some Tips to Stay Strong
Think it through. Think about your child's question before you say no. When your child asks for something, a first response is often no, without even really thinking it through. If the answer is no, then be prepared to stick with your decision. You will undoubtedly get pushback, crying, yelling, or even a full-blown tantrum until your child learns that you do not change your mind any more.
Take your time to answer. The best response is given when you are calm and you can make a decision based upon your child's best interest. Do not make a decision only to change your mind later. A successful response is, "I will think about it and let you know before dinner." Provide a time limit on your answer. If your child pushes or insists on an answer, let him know that, if he continues to ask, the answer will be no. However, if he is able to wait for an answer, you will give it some thought. This can be difficult to implement while emotions are running high. Practice using the phrase, "I'll give it some thought." Your child will learn patience and learn to accept your response.
Don't defend. It is a good decision, and you are certain about it. There is no need to justify, defend, or explain your reasoning. Do not feel pressured into answering, and do not lose your temper or yell. Yelling, negotiating, or defending can often escalate a situation; when you defend, you're done! When parents explain too much by defending an answer, it can become an invitation to a debate because they have opened the door for negotiation.
Offer options and distractions. For a two- to four-year-old who wants what he wants when he wants it, tell him when he can rather than why he can't. Distract him with an item to look at or hold. Take him by the hand and physically remove him to a new setting. Engage him in a new or different activity. If you bend, you will be training your child to beg. Inconsistency can extend the length of a tantrum each time he wants something.
Become a parent-in-training. Rather than dread those temper tantrums, embrace them! Consider yourself a parent-in-training. Use every opportunity to practice, stay strong, and face a tantrum. When you dread a tantrum, your child will sense it and take advantage. When you are ready, you will feel strong, and you will know you are providing the right limits. Your child will sense your empowerment. Use every opportunity and every tantrum to implement your new skills and training tactics.
Excerpted from Parenting with a Purpose by Diana R. Boggia Copyright © 2012 by Diana R. Boggia, MEd. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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